Friday, August 23, 2013

Because of the Color of My Skin PART I - Light vs. Dark: Insecurity, Mistreatment, Bias, and Cultural Stereotype

I'm back from my long hiatus with my long anticipated Blog Series: Because of the Color of My Skin.
It has been a long time coming, but now I've returned to get my thoughts out there on some very serious and deep rooted issues people of color face in society―in America, as well as all over the world.

I'll be bringing these stories to you in increments  As of right now I have five total topics for discussion, but this series has the potential to be quite ongoing.

I will begin by saying that I am in fact a young Black woman, descended from West Indian parents, though I was born an American. Though I relate best to the issues that plague my own people, I recognize and understand the turmoil other people of color face that are often as serious as my own personal struggles. I will do my best to address them as best as I can without bias or misinformation.

Let's jump right in.

Light Skin VS. Dark Skin - A Brief History

It's the most dangerously debated issue in the Black Community. It has caused hardship for countless people of color all over the world. Lighter skin is seen as purer, cleaner, and more desirable to have than darker skin.

People with darker skin have a long history of struggle. One of the most infamous instances of this was during the Era of Slavery in America. Darker-skinned slaves were limited to field work while lighter-skinned slaves worked in the home. At the time, slave owners often raped their female slaves and produced offspring that was mixed, and in most cases, of lighter skin. However, at the end of it all, those offspring were still slaves and property to said slave masters to be bought and sold at will. Slaves of mixed origin were often "bred" to produce more desirable lighter skinned "house slaves", who would be maidservants in the home, caretakers of children, and conductors of other homely duties. It was a highly rampant practice―one that we often rather forget but cannot ignore. It has left behind a rampant stigma that places lighter-skinned Black people above darker-skinned ones. There was pride and privilege in a world of despair if you were born with lighter skin. There was hope that you wouldn't bear the lash in the field, roast daily in the bleating sun, that instead you will wear nicer clothes and tend to the wife and children inside the bright and shining plantation house, away from it all.

Sadly, regardless of skin color, a slave was indeed a slave and was mistreated and used no matter their place in the social hierarchy.

A similar plight effects the people of India, where people with darker skin are deemed as undesired. This stigma is a remnant of the Caste System, which placed people of a certain social status in hierarchy over the others. In many cases, those with darker skin were in the lower castes. Once you were born into your place within it there was no real way to move up. People could only marry within their own castes. People of the lowest castes, the Untouchables, did the most menial of work, such as garbage disposal and sewer cleaning. Even with the abolishing of the discriminatory system, the Indian people still favor lighter and fairer skin even today as it's a sign of beauty, refinery, and in some instances even being closer to godliness. People of higher castes were often of lighter skin. The stigma in Indian culture still holds true as well even despite the fact that the population of lighter skinned Indians is much less than that of more brown complexion.

This "trend" is visible in so many cultures all over the world. It's seen in Latin America, where being more "European"―meaning more White, is highly favorable. Those who are of the descent of indigenous South Americans or of African descent are seen as lower in society. "Marrying up", as in being with someone who is more European, is favored. A child produced who is less indigenous or African is seen as hope to improve the family's societal rank.

In many Asian countries too, there's a history of those not of fair skin being seen as dirty, of lower class, and undesirable. Darker skinned Asians were poor farmers who did work in the fields, or laborers who lived only humble lives. Fairer Asians were seen as regal and refined, their paler skin a result of spending no time in the fields and in the sun. They were royalty or highly privileged individuals. Some aspects of that have remained.

These stereotypes and biases still resonate with the people of the present day.

This video documentary, called "Shadeism", on Vimeo puts a lot of the struggles around the world into perspective, I strongly advise viewing it, click here to watch.

The Skin Color Hierarchy - A Personal Struggle 

Let's go back to the deep rooted issues within the Black Community once more. It is what I personally know, understand, and identify with most. Let's start by identifying myself. I am what's considered to be a "light-skinned Black girl". My skin is a caramel brown with a bit of a toast in the summer months. Under different conditions I appear to be paler as well as deeper in complexion.

And I have been judged for it in various ways.

Time to break it down in plainer words. The stigma is still blaring within the Black Community that lighter-skinned males and females are more beautiful than our darker-skinned counterparts. We are "closer to white", and put on a pedestal to be admired and desired. Racist folk find us to be more "acceptable". We are to be attained and kept by those who are darker in hopes that by having children with us, they will be born with fairer skin. Sound familiar? It falls right in with the old ideologies of slavery.

Q: But I thought we moved past that?

A: No, not at all.

It's everywhere; in the media and movies where lighter-skinned Black people are more often featured than those of darker complexions. There's this shining beacon of the "caramel skinned, curly or straight haired Black girl with the light eyes" on the cover of a magazine (if even, or at least as a feature...ahem), as the main girl in a Hip-Hop video, the lead role in a Black Cinema movie (or the lead supporting role in a Hollywood movie...ahem #2), etc. Many of you probably know what I'm talking about. There's no denying that it's discrimination. It applies to men too, but it's most often with females from what I have seen.

Lot's of people can tell me, "Well, you fit that glorified stereotype, so who are you to talk?" I've been told that I'm lucky to be light-skinned. I'm prettier because I'm light-skinned. I have better hair because of my light-skin (though lighter skin does not always mean less course hair, but we'll come back to that later). People have denied that I was Black and claimed that I was of another race or that I couldn't possibly be "fully Black", as in that I had to be mixed. I'm sure there is some European blood in me due to the colonialists who were in control of the islands my parents were born on (whether that mixing was legitimate or not, I do not know.) I was envied to a certain extent by other girls because of my features. As a child, I didn't fully understand the cause of the resentment, but now as an adult, it couldn't be more obvious.

I wish we could move past it, but that's easier said than done.

Insecurity in Darker Skin
The flip side of this issue is clear. If fairer Black people continue to be favored, then those of darker-skin are much less desired. The majority of society believes that darker is "uglier". In the simplest of words, it's saddening.

Young people of dark skin, girls especially, grow up not feeling as beautiful as those lighter than they are. Some are made fun of, judged by their peers, and in more extreme cases, deemed to be uneducated and unruly individuals―all due to the fact that they were born with darker skin.

Darker skinned Black females are often in the background in the media or barely represented at all. This is opposite to what I mentioned before about lighter-skinned Black women. It's rare and surprising when it's otherwise, and I applaud when it is, but it's not enough to believe real progress has been made.

In social media, there's the rampant meme "Light Skin Girls/Guys Be Like" and "Dark Skin Girls/Guys Be Like", though meant to be comical, really make it apparent that the stigmas still exist. Often times, darker-skinned Black people are trying to appear lighter, or lighter-skinned Black people are vainly flaunting being seen as more desirable by all. It creates more friction between those of light and dark complexions, battling for attention and tearing each other down.

Light skinned girls are often written off as snobby and haughty. 

There's also "#TeamLightSkin" and "#Team DarkSkin" that furthers the separation between the shades. Men and Women often rep themselves under these labels and say why they will or will not date someone or be associated with someone of a certain skin tone. At a certain point the jokes (or what sometimes are completely serious biases) must come to an end and the real underlying issues must come to the light and be resolved.

And parties like this become a thing of the past. I really hope this was a joke...
Celebrities have also been accused of or caught skin bleaching, another depressing aspect of the desire to be lighter. In less extreme measures, their skin tones are often lightened on magazine covers and editorials using photo editing software. Also, keep in mind that under different lighting conditions, a persons skin tone can appear lighter or darker at any time, so sometimes the comparisons are quite unfair. You see them all over the internet; celebs like Rihanna and Beyonce being accused of bleaching their skin, when there is no known proof other than the fact that they appeared lighter in one setting and darker in another. However, these photos of Beyonce raise eyebrows a bit. But I don't believe that skin bleaching is to blame here. Simply Photoshop. Skin bleaching is highly practiced in many West Indian and African countries. The practice is also used in India and Asia. Not only is it unethical, its also dangerous for your health.

The practice of wanting to appear lighter, regardless of the measures taken, is dangerous to ones self esteem and that of others. It's a trend that needs to be slowly removed from our society and the world.

In India, where the men and women in the movies are all of fairer skin, the women especially, and seen as the highest attainable form of beauty.

In Asian countries where pale skin is often favored, the sun avoided to neglect appearing tan.

In Latin America where those of darker skin non-European descent are being "erased" through fervent and unjustified intermarriage tactics―along with being discriminated against in general.

It needs to all come to an end.

Moving Forward - All Shades are Beautiful

Photo: Oprah's "Dark Girls" documentary
In order to move forward, we must all first come to terms with ourselves, embracing the tone of our own skin and loving and appreciating that of others. In the Black community, you have the luxury of lining up at least ten different people and having no skin tone be the same. It's beautiful, and something we should be proud of.

The mixing of races and tones should not be for the desire for lighter children, but because you value each others cultural differences and come together to form someone new purely by chance and out of love for each other.

Dark skin is just as beautiful as any other lighter shade. Across all cultures this is true. There are so many people in the world, so many people of color at that, so why must we subject ourselves to the colonial and/or primitive desire of "whiteness is best" any longer? It's time to shed away these stigmas and love ourselves for all that we are.

I can't say it in any simpler way. Again, it's not easy to change the thoughts of an entire culture, but it all starts with how we all feel about ourselves. If we can love ourselves, then the opinions of others won't matter. When the naysayers see how much we embrace our own skin tones, they will slowly realize that their stigmas are stupid.

Just stupid.

There is so much more to add to this discussion. Lots more coming.
How have you dealt with the Light VS. Dark stereotypes? Share your personal stories in the comment section. Join the discussion, it's the only way things can change.

Thanks for reading.

- Aria

Friday, January 25, 2013

The Unhealthy Ways We Compare Ourselves to Others

It’s human nature, we all can’t help but do it, and that is compare our looks, clothing, hair, skin,  boyfriends/girlfriends, and everything else in between to another person. Many people like to claim that they don’t, but believe me they do. It’s just inevitable.

Self Discontent

We have those days, we’re on the street, browsing blogs online, hanging around school or campus, on our way to work, whatever it may be, and we see this person, someone we feel is prettier, more fashionable, just somehow better or has better things going for them than we do, and what happens? Self doubt, loss of self esteem, sadness, and just a lot of bad feelings.

And as I like doing in my posts, lets get personal. This whole topic stemmed from a personal struggle after all.

Being a young female is hard sometimes. We are constantly bombarded with ideals of beauty that are sometimes somewhat unattainable. You want to be every kind of “beautiful” under the sun but you know you just can’t do that. Sometimes I get down on myself for not being as lovely as the girl crossing my path on the way to my destination, the gorgeous beauty in a picture online with hyper feminine body features I don’t have, or not really having the “sexy”. On those last two notes, I’m referring to having a bigger bust and rump and overall “sex appeal” which are the ideal desires perpetuated by many men (not saying all, but many) and by mainstream media as well. Everywhere you look, these ideals bombard us; on TV, the internet, on poster adverts, everywhere. And I must say, that now being in a relationship, certain insecurities have become all the more apparent in me, insecurities that in the past, I could care less about. 

I’m the type of girl that doesn’t go on a jealousy trip if my man admires another woman. I for one usually join in on the admiration anyway, pointing girls out myself, as I do find women to be beautiful and I like to look at them too, but sometimes I get that twinge of self doubt when “I don’t have what she has”, and it’s tough to find a balance. It happens, we could be looking at some lovelies online, or see some pretty girl on the subway, whatever it may be, and a statement could me made that just steps over the fine line of light-hearted admiration...

And my self esteem ends up in the toilet. 

I may unintentionally compare everything about myself to the other girl, wondering what she has going for her that I don’t, why she is “better” than me, and if I’m good enough.

Talk about unhealthy.

But so many of us do the same thing, even if we don’t admit it to ourselves. It upsets me when I feel angry or flustered when I can’t be every type of beautiful for my mate, getting that feeling of inadequacy that makes you doubt if you’re even wanted, that you weren’t just “settled for”. Really awful feelings you just wish you didn’t have or could deal with better.

And it's the same for those seeking out a mate or significant other, you look at someone and tell yourself "Oh, I'm not good enough for him/her, let me not even try..." or "I bet he/she would like him/her better than they would like me, I'm so *insert self insult here*".

But how do I, or rather, how do we fix this?

Assurance From Others

I must have made it seem as though I’ve never been reassured about myself, my body, and my looks, or that I must be in the saddest relationship ever, that’s not true! Let me start by saying that I’ve been told directly and reassuringly by my bf that he loves me for ME, my body, my everything. We’ve spoken directly about some of my self esteem issues, and though I don’t feel completely secure with myself all the time, I am working to better myself with it. With time comes strength. With experience comes learning. We need to feel secure with ourselves first. You shouldn't NEED others reassurance of your looks to feel better about yourself, but it does help you toward helping yourself realize your assets and your worth. 

It’s only natural to have likeness for and attraction towards others, but that doesn’t always mean you will be cheated on or dropped by the wayside because girl/boy over there has more this or that than you. 

And it's the same for the Single and Seeking bunch—just because girl/boy over there has more this or that, also doesn't particularly mean that your worth less than they are. You can find that special someone if you work toward feeling confident about yourself first. It might take time, but go the distance.

For us women, you don’t have to have big boobs and full hips, the perfect figure, the longest and flowiest hair, the best clothes, perfect skin, or what have you; there will always be someone out there that appreciates your body and your looks for what they are, and even if they find appeal in some other attribute you don’t have, they still chose to love and admire you

This applies to the men out there as well, i.e. you don’t need rolling six pack abs, six foot tall, etc. to appeal to everyone, because that isn't what everyone in the world wants.

Looks aren't the most important attribute of a person.  

So let's break it down, you don't have to be "sexy" to be appealing to your mate or a potential mate, and me being "sexy" isn't the reason I have a boyfriend. But we must understand that sex appeal is a part of life and you can embrace it if you decide to. It shouldn't be forced on you by society or anyone else; it's your personal choice and don't forget that.

We all need to learn to love what we got going for us and make it work! 

We also need to get with others that love us for what we are despite our "flaws" and lackings. These are the things that make us who we are. If they don't embrace them, then you are better off without that person. Put yourself first.

Healthy Comparisons

Comparing yourself to another person doesn’t always need to be unhealthy either. I see girls sometime who are a lot like me, who seem confident in themselves and happy. I see girls who still manage to look sexy, cute, lovely, and fabulous with the same body type as me, similar hair to mines, similar facial features, or what have you. I look at them and tell myself “Hey, if she can do it, so can I” and then I instantly feel better about myself. 

I get friendly reassurance from my peers about my looks, not because I'm putting myself down and people pity me (which is also unhealthy), but because they genuinely admire me and I guess that's why they are my friends. Don't forget that having a pleasant personality adds to your beauty too; your inner beauty.

I look to others for style inspiration, and make it attainable for myself. If they are wearing something I can’t afford? I find an alternative. If they fill out *insert garment here* better than I could? I look for something similar that better suits me. If there’s a will there’s a way, and instead of beating yourself up about not being like so and so, just be your best YOU.

But it’s difficult. Those bad days will be there sometimes, or more times than you’d like them to be. Just take a step back and re-evaluate yourself, focus on the positive, try not to let what others say get you down, and do your best not to, if you have a significant other, chew them out for looking at or making comments about others that may appeal to them—pro-tip for a healthier relationship there. That is just human nature. It's what's acted upon that creates the issue (but that's a whole new discussion right there).

I'm trying my hardest to stick to my own advice here too.

Keep yourself happy. Don't be your own worst enemy. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

The War on Body Image: Feeling Comfortable in Your Own Skin

Oh, the tried and true body image discussion. We’ve all heard them for all our lives, especially if you are female. Everything from cartoons, magazines, talk shows, and TV shows have gone through it a bajillion times over, some perpetuating better ideals than others. However, there are different perspectives to look at body image that differ and vary; the way you look at yourself, the way others see you, the way you see others in relation to you. These factors can often have a very negative effect on your self esteem, but it doesn’t always have to be that way.

The Weight Issue

Probably the most testy, complicated, and argument starting topic of them all. It stems from the differences between a healthy weight for a person and society’s ideals that ignore a persons individual needs. We all know that for the longest time now, the slimmest figure possible is most desired in many parts of the world (not all but many). We also know that not everyones bodies were built to be slim, but despite that, the same ideals are pushed on everyone no matter what their genetic makeup may be. 

Honestly, I think it’s pretty unfair to push some unattainable ideal of a slim and “lump free”, for the lack of a better term, body when we as humans are all so different. Some people’s bodies just aren’t made to be a Size 0. You can be a Size 14, eat well and exercise, or are healthy enough that your size is not an issue to you, if that’s your body, you should embrace it and screw all the people who don’t.

Sometimes the debates are flipped around. It’s called “Skinny Hate”, where girls who are seen as  skinny get berated for being the way they are too. People call them out on possibly having eating disorders, saying they need to “eat a cheeseburger”, and other really insensitive things. Number 1, who knows if said person could have an eating disorder and is struggling with their self worth, and Number 2, just because you are “skinny” doesn’t mean that if you eat really super unhealthy foods often that they won’t cause diabetes or high cholesterol in your future. I mean, those are extreme circumstances, but they should be considered nonetheless. Weight gain or loss is not a stamp of “unhealthy” in the ways we always expect. 

Not trying to be preachy, but it all boils down to accepting a person no matter their weight. If someone is unhealthy, dangerously skinny or obese, kindly reach out to them if they are willing to change instead of firing bullets unknowingly or in spite of their feelings or health situations. If someone is perfectly happy and healthy the way they are, then leave them alone and sip the Haterade elsewhere. 

Even more importantly, learn to love your weight and be the most healthy person you can be for yourself and nobody else, I will come back to this.

The Real Woman

This relates back a bit to the whole Weight issue, and it’s about the heated argument between the Victoria Secret “Love My Body” and Dove “Real Beauty” ad campaigns. 

It was argued that the women in the VS ad were not “real women” and that the varied bodies of the women in the Dove ad were. Both are quite wrong in their own right. 

First off, the women in the VS ad are in fact real. There are real women out there would birth given bodies like theirs, and yes it may fit the feminine ideal in media and advertisement, but that doesn’t make it wrong and those women should not be hated on for it. 

Secondly, the women in the Dove ad don’t represent every body type, and physical as well as racial attributes that exist in the whole world. Those women represented only show a tiny amount of the types of bodies out there. Yes, they in fact are not the usual advertised female bodies, which I find to be encouraging, but it's still not everyone out there.

In a personal perspective, my body type isn’t represented in neither of the campaigns. I’m petite, small figured and quite slim, don’t have much in the boob department, with pretty full thighs. The VS models are quite tall first off, with a lot more in the bust (I mean they are selling bras after all). I also don’t see a 100% representation of myself in the Dove ad either, though there was variety, none of those women were “me”. Well of course not, because no one has my exact body but me. 

There was also the argument over retouching of the VS girls; but tell me, would you want your completely unfiltered body plastered all over ads for everyone to see? Be fair. There is retouching in both images no doubt.

If it were up to me, I would merge the two campaigns and add even more variety, but come on, there are 6 billion people on this earth, can we really represent everyone in one ad? No not really. 

The Self

Now, about being the most healthy person you can be for yourself and nobody else, I can’t stress enough how important this is for all of us. Female or Male, young or old, we all need to learn to accept ourselves for our bodily imperfections. It’s also important to make changes if you see fit, and doing so in a healthy way. Some people opt for plastic surgery, and there is nothing wrong with that as long as it is done in the safest ways possible. Others strive to lose weight if they feel as though they’ve become unhealthy and unhappy. People struggling with anorexia, bulimia, or other eating disorders seek help from doctors, counselors, and nutritionists. And lastly, there are those who are healthy and just go along with what they’ve got going for them no matter what. What I’m trying to say is please yourself first, evaluate whats best for you on your own accord, and listen to your body because only it knows the answers. 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Attraction: Beauty is in the Eye of the Beholder

So how exactly can we define Beauty? By a single phrase alone? I think not. Beauty is a complicated concept that varies from culture to culture, person to person, and is ever changing as a person develops and grows throughout their life.

The concept of beauty applies to persons, places, and things, and it’s the principle way we rate somethings desirability; be it a shiny apple we chose to eat for a mid-afternoon snack or more importantly, a person we may admire or desire.  

Everyones opinion of what is beautiful is different, as we all have probably realized from a very young age. What you believe to be beautiful can even be found to be quite repulsive to another, and that’s something we all have to cope with in life. It can be even worse when you look in the mirror and see yourself as beautiful, and then some mean-spirited person calls you out on your flaws. They speak spitefully about, lets say your curly hair—calling it frizzy and unruly, your piercings or tattoos—grotesque and ugly, your clothing choices, your body type, and finally what I’m getting at here, the person you may choose to love or why a person choses not to love you.

Now for the second definition, what is Attraction? Most simply put, it’s the things about another person that draws our attention, rouses our affections, evokes our interests. This could apply both romantically and non-romantically. Some people have a varied range of attributes they find attractive and they are very open-minded about different kinds of people, while others are quite specific (sometimes too specific) in their likes and dislikes. Neither one nor the other is wrong, but wouldn’t it be best to keep an open mind when seeking out another person, again be it romantically or non-romantically? Not that you should drop your taste level, but it’s unhealthy to shun someone away because of one or two minor attributes about them you don’t like. This idea has been subject to much debate.

So lets talk about romantics for a minute. First, I’ll give some personal insight. I’m the type of person who went into the relationship game with an open mind and an open heart. I found personality traits and similarity in interests to be much more important than physical attraction; not that it wasn’t a factor at all, it’s still very important, but it just wasn’t the most important to me. Because of that fact, I’ve found myself in a happy and healthy relationship with a person that I can not only love, but peacefully coexist with, which is ultimately the bottom line in a successful relationship. Ultimately, both people involved in the relationship must be physically attracted to the other person initially, but the true bonds are made on a much higher level. 

Let me ask, what would you rather? The most “beautiful” in the world as your significant other with the horrid personality, who berates and belittles you constantly, or the more “average” person with the amazing personality who understands and adores you for everything that you are? When you put it that way, the choice is simple. It is not impossible however to find that beautiful person with a beautiful heart, and that brings me back to defining “beauty”—it’s not only what’s on the outside, a cheesy line but it couldn't be more true. There really is no “average” person, to you that person IS the most beautiful person in the world for everything that they are.

There will always be someone who will disagree with your choice in love. Look at the friend who calls their friend’s boyfriend ugly and asks why they are even together just on physical looks alone, another that calls their friend’s girlfriend fat and asks why they aren’t with someone slimmer; the scenarios are endless. They can dislike their way of dress, or more extremely their race or cultural background; theres always something. Never lose sight of what’s important, which is your feelings for the one you choose to be with and what you have going for each other, everything and everyone else is secondary. 

Again, keep an open mind. You’ve heard it a million times before, don’t judge a book by its cover. Yes, there are certain varied things about people that flip off the light on your attraction, but always evaluate thoroughly your reasons why. There are some people out there that don’t give a single person the time of day unless they fit their ideal criteria; usually some fanciful convoluted dream that is near impossible to achieve in reality. 

Drop it.

If you’re still looking for that special person, be it short term or long term, it doesn’t matter, try starting off with a clean slate. No one is telling you “lower your standards” because you know what you want, but give yourself and another person a chance in the least. It sounds so simple, but sometimes it’s the farthest from. 

“Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” could not be a truer statement. Open your eyes for there is much to behold. 

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

This is Speaking Me

It's been a long time coming. From personal contemplation, encouragement from friends, and my passion for writing, I've finally created this blog where I will simply be, Speaking Me.

What is Speaking Me? It couldn't be simpler yet it couldn't be any less complicated. Here I will be writing about things in my experience, my society, my world, that are important to me that I may seek changing, relate to, agree or disagree with. This could also be so much more. I'm new to this reflective as well as informational and encouraging form of writing, and the format and topics of this blog will be ever-changing and constantly developing to bigger and better things.

I always have a lot to say and I like to be heard, so I feel this is the best outlet for me to get things out of my mind and out into the world. I've enjoyed writing ever since I could write my first letters and words. I feel as though I could make an impact in this new yet ancient way; through writing. It's one of the oldest forms around, yet made new and accessible again through the internet; viewable and sharable to all.

I look forward to sharing my thoughts with you all. I also appreciate feedback and discussion, but as with all of that, do keep it civil. I may say things that you just might not agree with, and though it's okay here to be honest, just think before you press 'post comment'. 

I will always be straightforward in my posts and I don't like to sugarcoat. 

I write in a casual yet descriptive form. I try not to be preachy or sound high-and-mighty. I'm a regular person just like you, trying to figure out this world we all live in a day at a time. 

Join me and let's figure it out together. 

- Aria